Sometimes I let my love of colour get the better of me. I have dug out my green coat (the one I only wear occasionally lest I wear it out) and I'm cheerfully pairing it with an orange knitting project. Colours feed my soul.
But I cannot live on colour and sunshine alone.
The First Lesson: The Difference Between Favours & Big Asks - And Why You Need To Know It
Recently I've received emails from very different people with an identical message: hey, I'm just going to ask you for a favour.. Favours are good and I like being able to help where I possibly can. I like introducing like-minded people to each other. I like being able to vouch for someone being fabulous. I like skimming a friend's magazine proposal before it's submitted. If I can help, I am happy to do so. But, do me a favour has taken a very strange turn. This past week I was asked if I could turn over the copyright of my most popular pattern to a publishing company I had to google (in return I'd get .. a link to this blog!?). Could I share my email list of clients with someone wanting to work as a technical editor? Today I was asked to donate a substantial monetary-value amount of goods to an event to which I had not been invited (I actually queried this favour and I'll share the astounding reply in a second). I don't consider these requests favours - I consider these Big Asks.
Favours are reciprocal - Big Asks are not.
If you are sending an email, ask yourself if you are requesting a favour or a Big Ask. Do you have a prior relationship with the person you are contacting? Do you have mutual friends who can vouch for you? Is what you are requesting something of huge benefit to you but not to the other person?
Favours come with an expectation that at some point the asker will be in the position of helping you out with something. It is a mutual beneficiary situation: if I help a friend by proof-reading his article, he might lend me a place to sleep next time I pass through his town. If I introduce a friend to another friend - maybe one day one of them will introduce me to someone interesting. Sure I end up feeling great about helping out people, but I also know that I'll have an IOU in future reserve if I ever need it.
Big Asks come with nothing. I don't know the person asking. The request has come out of nowhere and typically the Big Ask would result in me handing over significant sources of income to complete strangers. In return? Frequently I am promised exposure in the vaguest terms possible - but we all know that is not a valid currency. Once I've helped out with the Big Ask, chances are that I'll either never heard from the asker again or I'll keep getting Big Asks until I have nothing left to give.
So, you have something you want to obtain - this can be anything from advice on how to pitch a submission to getting more clients or staging a successful event. How can you turn your Big Ask into a favour? The answer is surprisingly simple: ask in a way that will benefit you both. Examples:
I'd like all rights to your most popular pattern/photo/song!" = "Do you have a pattern/photo/song tucked away that you'd like to publish through us?"
I need a list of your clients/I need an introduction to XYZ" = "Hey, I am really interested in South American farming communities. Can you point me in the right direction? Awesome article on crop rotation, by the way. Do you know Crop Rotation Expert Phil? I'd love to introduce you guys"
I am hosting AN AWESOME EVENT OUT OF THE BLUE and I need 150 goodie bags!" = "Hi, I am currently planning an event focused on crop rotation practice. I was wondering how your schedule looks for next March and if you would be interested in hosting a panel on Peruvian popcorn plantations?"
See how rephrasing works? It's pretty cool, no? You are still asking for something, but you are starting a conversation that might lead somewhere really good.
The Second Lesson: Don't Sabotage Yourself and Your Project Before You Start
Remember I queried why I was being asked to donate to an event and not asked to work the event? I received this answer which floored me: Because you are too famous and therefore too expensive for us.
My pub landlord used to be in a Glasgow indie pop band - if I were arranging a local music festival, why shouldn't I ask him if he'd like to DJ or play a couple of tracks? At worst he'd be busy or outwith my budget - but if I didn't ask I would never know. Is he famous? I honestly hadn't heard of his band until I moved to Glasgow, but now I realise the band meant a lot to other local bands in the late 1990s. Fame is an exceptionally relative term - someone's famous musician is another person's pub landlord. And he still needs to pay bills.
Do not assume that something or someone is out of reach. That is not your decision to make.
Take all your knowledge about favours and Big Asks, and make a list. Who would be awesome to have on your team? Who could help turn your kick-ass idea into a kick-ass reality? Who would be a big draw for your event? Think big and reach out in the way we talked about earlier. You may get a couple of cold shoulders ("Okay, maybe asking Taylor Swift to headline Aberdour Festival was a bit ambitious..") but you will get responses from many awesome corners too. Remember, it is not up to you to decide if somebody wants to be on Team Awesome - but you'll never know if you don't approach them in a friendly way.
My Personal Lesson: It Is Not About Me. It Is About You.
It's been a really crap week so far with a lot of soul-destroying Something For Nothing emails in my inbox. Hey, am I too approachable? I have been turning down many Big Asks this week. Hey, am I not approachable enough? For every fifteen Big Asks, I get just one favour through and those fabulous emails are usually prefaced with a "hey, I know you are busy but I thought I'd drop you a line.."
And then it dawned on me, that all this has nothing to do with me. It's about people either not realising I exist (fame is an exceptionally relative term!), people thinking I'm too busy for them (they've made their decision without consulting me), or people thinking I cannot bring anything to the game (okay, okay, this one is about me and my poor knowledge of Peruvian popcorn farms). I can fret about looking unapproachable in my green coat and kitschy sunglasses - but that is who I am and my outfit has nothing to do with approachability. I have a contact form, people can get in touch on social media, and plenty of people come up to say hi when I am working at festivals or shops.
So, I'm going to continue be kick-ass at my job. I'll keep wearing my yellow shoes & my capes. I have some fantastic things in store over the next .. gulp .. eight months. And I hope to find far fewer Big Asks in my inbox and far more favours. Deal? Deal.